Monday, 22 September 2014

Faith, Fiction and Writing

Recently I've been thinking about faith in the context of books. I do not read Christian fiction as a rule -- what I have read has been cliched, predictable, and often just makes me


I remember one book I read - I can't remember the title - but the plot was a little like this: the MC is a fourteen-year-old girl who feels like her faith is stopping her from being cool. She feels like her friends are growing up without her and starts getting into parties, boys etc. to be "cool" like them. Up until the end it was quite a well-written, relatable book, but my problem was this: after the MC had her climax/turning point and turned to Jesus, all her problems went away. As the book ends she meets a nice, good-looking boy (the implication is clear - he is perfect boyfriend material) and finds out about a youth group where she can meet lots of Christians her own age. "Wahey!" the book trilled. "Become a Christian and you will have a perfect life!" 

Well.

That was mainly a little rant with not that much relevance to this post, but the point is clear: I do not want to write that sort of book.

"So then, Emily, what sort of book do you want to write?"

.... and that, friends, is just what I'm trying to figure out.

Let's take a little look at religion in books, shall we?

~ The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

“It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"
"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.
"Are -are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.

"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.” 

As I'm sure you know, the (wonderful) Narnia stories are in many respects an allegory for Christianity, with Aslan personifying Jesus Christ. However CS Lewis said that he did not intend this to be the case, and he was not writing with the aim in mind to take the gospel and translate it into a fantasy setting. In a letter in 1959, he wrote: "I don't say, "Let us represent Christ as Aslan." I say, "Supposing there was a world like Narnia, and supposing, like ours, it needed redemption, let us imagine what sort of Incarnation and Passion and Resurrection and Incarnation Christ would have there."" 

~ A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

For those of you unfamiliar with this (amazing) epic fantasy series, Martin creates a diverse and impressive religious identity for the Seven Kingdoms: the nameless gods of the North, the new Seven Gods of the South, the Drowned God and the Lord of Light ... 

~ Much historical fiction

Of course, it is only recently that Christianity has been phased out of life in the West, so it has a presence in much historical fiction, as it would have done in life at that time. Off the top of my head I can think of such books as Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier, VIII by HM Castor (review here), The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (review here) and Stripes of the Sidestep Wolf by Sonya Hartnett (review here), which are all historical fiction containing Christianity.

~ Much contemporary/dystopian fiction

In a lot of contemporary fiction, there is no presence of religion, reflecting the trend of our world. 

In my opinion, CS Lewis gets religion pretty perfectly. As for George RR Martin, I am fascinated by the religions he works into his stories; it is very imaginative and impressive. However, as he is an author with no faith, there is a definite sense around his fictional religions of their ultimate meaninglessness/the way in which his characters have blind, pagan faith or do not really believe in the gods at all. For this reason I am wary to make up a religion for my book; I feel like it would end up as idolatry, and I'm not sure how I would work it into the narrative. But on the other hand, I don't think I can really just throw Christianity into a fantasy setting; I don't think it would be very plausible.

At the moment, my characters are without faith. I know that there are many Christian authors who work like this - JRR Tolkien being, of course, a key example - but I don't know if I want my characters to continue going it alone. I don't have to go it alone in my life - I have God who is always with me - so why should they? It's a difficult question to look at; in the end, I guess the only solution is that I need to be CS Lewis

Sadly, this is not possible. 

Very, very sadly.
But anyway. I thought that the next best option would be ... to ask you lovely lot! So please tell me. How do you balance religion in your book? I know a lot of you are Christians; are your characters Christians? If you write fantasy: is there religion in your world? Please tell me more! If you don't write at all: what are your thoughts on religion in books? 

Thank you muchly.

Emily x

16 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post! I've read a lot of Christian Fiction in my day - from Karen Kingsbury who deals with contemporary settings, to Amish fiction, to historicals. I get you're frustration with the typical "Christian" scheme many Christian Fiction novels have, though. But really, I think that's what Christian Fiction readers are looking for when they pick up a book of that genre. They want to read about different plights and how people of the same faith deal with those issues. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the scheme works and is enjoyable, so why go against the grain? If it's not broke, don't fix it. But that being said, you don't have to exactly follow that scheme to make readers happy. Life isn't all roses and happy endings, even for those Christians with a steadfast faith. Perhaps have your characters encounter problems, deal with them in their own way but with Christ at the center of their decision making. That way, Christ's will is done, but your characters are still dynamic in their actions.

    I hope that helps! It's great to see a fellow Christian Fiction reviewer. I review those, as well as Amish fiction, historicals, and everything in between.

    New bloglovin' follower! I'd love to see what you have to say about some of my Christian fiction reviews as well (though, at the moment it's largely inundated with YA, lol), so feel free to stop by and comment/follow/what have you. ^-^

    Brittany @ http://www.spacebetweenthespines.com/

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    1. Thanks, Brittany! :D

      I've not actually read much Christian Fiction, as I said, but if I were to write it I'd definitely take your advice and have a plot outside of the characters' faith, with as you said "Christ at the centre of their decision making". My problem is more my fantasy setting, which I'm not sure how to manoeuvre!

      Thanks for the follow! I'm not entirely a book blogger - I do lots of other stuff here too - but when it comes down to it, all my posts come back to books! I'll be along to your blog :)

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  2. I feel EXACTLY the same way you do. I've been meaning to write a blog post about it for ages, but I can never quite figure out how it should sound. I've read a lot of "Christian" books, but rarely do I find one that isn't cookie cutter and well written. Now-a-days, I don't read very much of it for that reason.

    It's such a hard thing to be true to what you believe in, and the write fantasy. C.S. Lewis is truly the master of it.

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    1. This post was kind of a random spurt from the depths of my brain, but I have been thinking about the topic for a long time. I've not read much Christian fiction, but from what I have read and heard I end up a bit unsatisfied and frustrated, for the reasons I detailed in this post.

      CS Lewis is 100% the master. ~sigh~ I wish I'd written Narnia!

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  3. "The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene probably counts as 'Christian fiction' (historical, not fantasy, admittedly) and it is his masterpiece. My copy is probably knocking around at home: do borrow. Think less all-American protestant teen who finds that faith solves all her problems and more alcoholic Catholic priest with donkey for transport on the run from brutal totalitarian persecution in 1930s Mexico. Nothing straightforward, predictable or tidy about it! HHL

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    1. Sounds interesting! I *think* I've heard of it. I would like to read more fiction of this ilk -- I'm just put off by, as you astutely put it, "all-American protestant teen"!

      PS do you have a blog/account? Sorry it's just when you say "do borrow", I'm wondering if you're someone I know? ~narrows eyes suspiciously~ are you Rose??

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    2. The clue is in the initials, ya wee bampot. I'm hoping they don't stand for something hilarious in internet-speak like LOL or ROFL or whatever it is the web-based ranks of the illiterati are typing these days...x

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    3. Ah yes .... well I wasn't really paying attention. Pray what is a bampot??

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    4. Scots for 'headcase', I believe (cf. 'barm-pot' in Lancs/Derbys/Yorks English). Surely common parlance at school unless they're all a bit too perskeet to use such rough language?

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    5. "bam" = "ned" (non-educated delinquent; cf. "yob"). However "bampot" is not something I've come across, even in the roughs of deepest darkest Glasgow ...

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  4. I don't do Christian Fiction. I don't like having faith shoved at me. I mean, yeah, I'm Catholic, and I firmly believe in my faith, but seriously, you turn more people away from the faith when you go, "THIS IS MY FAITH READ IT LOVE IT BECOME IT." Christian Fiction bothers me.

    I like the way Maggie Stiefvater has it in her books, like Scorpio Races and Raven Boys, where it's there, but it's not in your face.

    I also love Leap of Faith, which is really, really good, and doesn't make Christianity seem idyllic.

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    1. YES. I 100% agree with this! I do like Maggie Stiefvater's approach!

      I've not read Leap of Faith (or heard of it? Is it even a book??) but I'll look it up! :)

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    2. Leap of Faith is a book by... by.... It's a weird name. Give me a sec. ... um... *looks it up* Kimberly Brubaker Bradley. It's actually really good, about a girl who's parents are very... without God. So, because of something that happened before the book starts, she decides to become a Catholic to spite them, and ends up converting for real, and it's super awesome and well written.

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    3. Ooh that does sound good! I think I'll slope off to Goodreads and have a look ... thanks, Treskie!

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  5. Awh dude, this is such an interesting post.
    When I was out in the middle of nowhere with one of my friends a few weeks back, we were handed a free Christian book. I was like, 'oh great, why not' because I've not really decided on a religion and I thought it'd be interesting to read. Buuuut intsead, it turned out to be a book just like the one you described.. sigh. It also kept contradicting itself, which confused me even more and put me off reading religious stuff anymore.
    But then again, I suppose I was handed it on the street so I shouldn't really have expected that much >_<
    Amy;
    The Blog Hermit

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    1. Thanks :)
      Hmm. That does sound off-putting. Personally I don't really understand why authors need to dress up Christianity in fiction. If you don't have an actual plot, don't write the book, because guess what? People can actually just read the Bible!! Obviously religion in books is fine -- if there is actually some sort of story as well.

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Thanks for commenting! :)